American University’s men’s basketball team (1-2) bounced back Saturday after starting the year with two disappointing road losses, and captured its first win of the season in a 71-70 victory over Loyola Maryland (0-3).
Senior guard Jamir Harris led the way for the Eagles with a career-high of 23 points, including four deep 3-pointers. After starting off slow to begin the game, the Eagles held the lead for the entirety of the second half despite multiple late Greyhound runs. Whenever Loyola began to gain momentum, Harris provided timely scoring that allowed the Eagles to regain control of the game. Harris attributed his new offensive assertiveness to the leadership role he has taken this year.
“When it gets to certain points in the game, I definitely feel like I need to be more aggressive and make more plays,” Harris said in a postgame interview. “I wouldn’t really say it’s picking my spots, I try to be aggressive throughout the entire game; it's just that in certain situations I need to be more aggressive.”
While teammates Stacy Beckton Jr. and Johnny O'Neil were the main standouts of the opening weekend against Navy, Harris was the best player on the court for the Eagles on Saturday, showing off his shooting ability while also flashing new parts of his game when driving to the basket, finishing around the rim and getting to the free-throw line.
“I thought it was by far his best game I’ve seen him play, just because of his decision-making,” Eagles head coach Mike Brennan said postgame. “Sometimes he’s coming down and he’s going to shoot some bombs, and we need him to be that aggressive and that confident. He got to the rim and he’s expanding his game. I thought his effort and what he’s trying to do was perfect.”
While Harris dominated the perimeter, junior big man Josh Alexander also contributed a career-high 13 points Saturday along with four rebounds and three steals. In Harris’ opinion, Alexander was the most important player on the floor for the Eagles.
“Josh Alexander, to me, gets the game ball today,” Harris said. “As much as he was holding his own on the defensive end guarding those guys and finishing strong down there in the paint, getting offensive rebounds, he was definitely a force for us down there for today. He made a difference.”
After the game, Brennan praised the hard work Alexander put in over the off-season to be able to put together this performance against arguably the best frontcourt in the Patriot League.
“He’s a worker,” Brennan said. “As limited as to what he could do at home all spring and all summer, he came back in tip-top shape. He puts in the work every day in practice. He’s just a pleasure to coach. He’s obviously put a lot of work into his game, and he feels pretty confident down there.”
Heading into the game, the Eagles knew their success depended upon how Alexander and junior forward Christian Lorng held up against Loyola’s formidable frontcourt of Santi Aldama and Golden Dike. While Aldama was dominant in the first half with 15 points, AU was able to stifle him for much of the second.
“You’re not going to stop him,” Brennan said in regards to Aldama. “He’s too good of a player and he can do so many different things that you’re not gonna completely stop him, and we didn’t today. Essentially, he’s gonna get his more or less, so if you can limit everybody else and make him really work for everything that he does get, you’re doing as much as you can against a guy like that.”
The Eagles did an excellent job at limiting the players around Aldama, as only one other Greyhound player with at least four shot attempts was able to shoot better than 40 percent from the field. The entire team shot only 23 percent from 3-point range.
This was the Eagles’ first home game this season, and, due to coronavirus protocols, there were no fans in attendance at Bender Arena. For Harris, this was an odd situation that he quickly adjusted to.
“Going into it, prior to the game starting, I thought it would be a little weird,” Harris said. “But [once we’re] actually playing, it's like we’re out there playing an intense pickup game. Just having fun with our team and trying to get wins. I thought the fans would be more of a factor, but it's really not. It kind of allows you to focus more on what's going on the court. In a way it's kind of easier.”
O’Neil, a freshman, provided the highlight play of the game for the Eagles with an emphatic dunk that surely would’ve had Bender Arena on its feet in a normal season. O'Neil put together another impressive performance in his third game of the season, with 10 points, seven rebounds and two three-pointers.
AU will play Loyola in the second of their six scheduled matchups at 6 p.m. Sunday, this time on the road in Loyola’s Reitz Arena in Baltimore.